Now that the Nintendo Switch has taken over much of the universe, many publishers are and have been racing to get more of their games, past and present, onto the platform. The Switch has quickly become not only the go-to system for portable play, but a sort of interactive paid museum of hits from the last few console generations.
It's a lot to sort through, particularly for fans of specific genres. Here are some recommendations for must-play RPGs that are currently available on the Switch.
Best Role-Playing Games on Nintendo Switch
The term "role-playing game," particularly on consoles, has gotten increasingly vague over the course of the last 20 years. It used to refer to a specific style of video game that was meant to mimic the combat systems of tabletop RPGs, with the Wizardry series in particular influencing a generation of Japanese developers.
There's been a lot of genre-bending since then, though, and the lines are much blurrier than they used to be. Now, you can make a reasonable argument that a surprising variety of games count under the general umbrella of "role-playing," because they feature turn-based combat, dialogue choices, a level- or experience-based character improvement system, and/or beating up monsters to take their stuff.
Depending on interpretation, there are a lot of really great titles that often end up on lists of great role-playing games despite only nominal associations with the genre, from the understandable (Stardew Valley) to the questionable (Bloodstained has RPG-style character advancement, but surely it's an action/platformer?) to the outright bonkers (Nintendo itself lists Astral Chain as an RPG on its website, which... huh?).
For our current recommendations, however, we're choosing to skew towards the more classic end of the scale, and away from action-RPGs like Witcher III and Xenoblade Chronicles. If you're a fan of RPGs, you've likely already played at least a few of these, but there are always newer fans who could use a place to start.
Final Fantasy IX (2000)
Square Enix ported every Final Fantasy from VII to XII (except FFXI, the MMO) to the Switch late last year, including a remaster of VIII. I'm only going to bring Final Fantasy up once on this list, and while none of them are a bad choice, I'm going to give the nod to IX.
Primarily, it's because it's been largely forgotten; despite a high-profile international release, FFIX is in the same weird memory hole as the original Japanese II, III, and IV, for what amounts to no good reason. IX represents a sort of return to basics by Square after VII and VIII. While both of those were dark, brooding, and at least as much works of science fiction as fantasy, FFIX is a bright, cheerful game that was deliberately built as a sort of series retrospective. It really embraces a lot of the trademark high-fantasy craziness that was a Final Fantasy hallmark before VII.
In the intervening 20 years, however, it seems like very few people talk about IX anymore. You can cite any number of reasons why its star fell; it's not FFVII, it came out right before hype for the PS2 started to spin up, it's a sharp artistic departure from the pseudo-realism of FFVIII, etc. (Also, let's face it, Quina's a little creepy.)
In a way, I think this works to IX's benefit when you try to revisit it now. (The same is true, to a lesser extent, of VIII; that game's biggest problem has always been the expectations set for it by VII.) Inasmuch as a mega-franchise like this one can have a sleeper hit, that's Final Fantasy IX, and it's overdue for a critical reexamination.
If you were or knew a teenager in late 2015, you probably heard all about Undertale, even if you didn't end up playing it yourself. A lot of ink has been spilled about it already, particularly once it got a song and a costume into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
I'm honestly not sure how much you'd get out of Undertale if it was your first exposure to RPGs, or if it was one of the first games in the genre that you played. There's a lot of the game that comes down to being a reaction to generations of RPG mechanics, particularly the sanitized violence that's quietly pervasive throughout the genre. It's quietly revelatory, and genuinely emotional.
Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition (2015)
Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity forms a sort of two-piece set in my mind with inXile's Wasteland 2. Both were crowd-funded; both are deliberate throwbacks to an earlier stage of computer gaming; and both have received Switch ports.
The big difference, to my mind, is that while Wasteland 2 leans into the weird, janky nature of PC games in the late '90s, warts and all, Pillars of Eternity is more of a refinement thereof. It's an evolution of the deliberately difficult, occasionally obtuse dungeon crawler, with a hearty dose of 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons. They're both worth a look for Switch owners, but PoE is the better experience of the two.
(It is kind of a bummer, though, that since Obsidian was acquired by Microsoft last year, Pillars of Eternity II is probably never coming to the Switch.)
Pillars of Eternity may be ugly, particularly by modern standards, but it's thoughtful and challenging without being as brutal as PC games notoriously were back in the day. Grab a copy for that one dude you know who complains that there hasn't been a good video game since Fallout 2.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar (2018)
Joe Madureira's Battle Chasers was an indie fantasy comic from the '90s that, 16 years after its last issue shipped, received a surprise sequel in the form of a full-length RPG.
Like Madureira's big previous game, the original Darksiders, Nightwar feels like a distillation of every mechanic from every RPG that the developers ever liked. You could pour water on this thing to rehydrate it and it'd explode into a dozen other games, Chrono Trigger and Valkyrie Profile seemingly foremost among them.
It's got some problems with character balance--you really don't want to have a party that doesn't include Gully and Calibretto, or the whole team's made up of glass cannons--but Nightwar's got heart. You can tell it was a labor of love.
Golf Story (2017)
One of the weird things about the early Switch lineup was that one of its best exclusives was an indie Australian RPG that replaced its combat with golf. There was a period there for about three weeks where Golf Story was a genuine hidden gem, but then everyone seemed to find it at once. Now it's just a gem.
Golf Story, depending on how you look at it, is either a sports adventure filtered through RPG mechanics, or a traditional RPG that happens to be mostly about golf. It's actually a little crazy how well a lot of the typical RPG mechanics map onto a story about a young athlete out to prove himself.
Be sure to play it now, in advance of its sequel Sports Story, which is still scheduled as of this writing to ship at some point this summer.
Octopath Traveler (2018)
Square Enix's Octopath Traveler, an isometric RPG from the team that made the Bravely Default games, cleaned up at award shows back in 2018.
As one of eight separate characters with very different skill sets, you play through eight chapters of their story before it all converges in the end. Visually, it's a sprite-based throwback game that feels like one of the weird, ambitious side projects Square put out on the PlayStation in the early 2000s.
It doesn't hit for everyone, but when Octopath Traveler grabs you, it doesn't let go. It's one of those games where people seem to either have forgotten about it by now, or will sing its praises forever.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 - Definitive Edition (2017)
Larian Studios got the go-ahead to work on Baldur's Gate III off the strength of the two Divinity: Original Sin games: massive, customizable RPGs with an intricate combat system, and occasionally bizarre sense of humor, and a vast scope.
Original Sin 2 came to the Switch in its Definitive Edition after collecting rave reviews on PC and other consoles. It features an additional tutorial mode, several hundred thousand words of new story, and rebalanced combat, among other improvements. It still offers a remarkably complex battle system that lets you pull off things that aren't possible in many other games, like flanking maneuvers and weaponizing your environment with the right spells.
Set centuries after the last game, Original Sin 2 sends players back to Rivellon, where your character is one of the handful of people who can manipulate the energy called Source. You're pursued by both zealous inquisitors and monsters from outside reality.
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age (2019)
Dragon Quest's star has fallen a bit in North America, where the games never quite seemed to catch on to the extent Final Fantasy did, but it's still one of the biggest franchises going in Japan. It doesn't hurt that Dragon Quest traditionally features art and character designs by Akira Toriyama, the creator of the mega-hit series Dragon Ball. It likely doesn't help that the first four games were released for the NES in North America in the '80s under the name Dragon Warrior, with some questionable localization choices and little of Toriyama's art.
Sort of like Final Fantasy IX, the Dragon Quest series plays its genre dead straight, and more or less always has. It's wizards, prophecies, heroes, princesses, dragons, and magic from dawn to dusk out here, and it's all done with a self-assurance that makes the games difficult to dislike.
The Switch version of Dragon Quest XI is another Definitive Edition, and has additional features over previous versions of the game, including extra story missions, the option to listen to the voice acting in Japanese, and a 16-bit mode that changes the game from modern HD to the finest sprites 1992 never had.
Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition (2008)
The Tales series has been going strong since 1995, with the latest entry, Tales of Arise, planned for release later this year. Of them all, Vesperia is one of the most well-known (among other things, it ended up representing the Tales franchise in the 3DS strategy crossover Project X Zone and its sequel), and is the only game in the series on the Switch as of this writing.
Vesperia features a flexible system that makes its battles feel a little more like a fighting game than typical turn-based combat, alongside a surprisingly dark storyline when compared to some of its contemporaries at the time. As Yuri Howell, an ex-knight on the trail of a thief, you confront the problems that have spurred from his society's overreliance on an ancient energy source called blastia.
The Definitive Edition on Switch gives the graphics a good coat of HD paint, some new voice acting, and all of the additional content that had previously been exclusive to the Japanese PlayStation 3 version of the game. This includes adding several more characters to the cast, such as new party member Patty Fleur.
It's a good time to be into video games. Things are speeding up this spring, with big news and fresh releases coming up quickly. We've got more news and guides on our site, including:
- Assassin's Creed: Valhalla was announced on Thursday, with building customization, RPG elements, and Vikings
- Danny Trejo delighted the world, or at least Twitter, by playing the new Animal Crossing
- There's a Jay and Silent Bob 8-bit retro game coming soon
You could make a lot of best-of lists from the Nintendo Switch lineup at this point, from the broad (fighting games!) to the alarmingly specific (fighting games with animals in them!). There are a ton of games on the system now, and you've probably got some favorites that we unaccountably didn't bring up. Go ahead and tell us how wrong we are at our Twitter, @PrimaGames.